Records that Sound Best on the Right Early Pressing

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow

More of the Music of the Jefferson Airplane

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of the Jefferson Airplane

  • This outstanding stereo copy of the band’s sophomore release boasts solid Double Plus (A++) from first note to last
  • It’s the rare copy of this ’60s Psych Classic that has this kind of freedom from grit and distortion – it’s also swimming in Tubey Magic, the glorious sound of vintage analog vinyl, found on the real thing and, let’s be honest, nowhere else
  • An incredibly difficult album to find with audiophile sound, but this pressing has the goods and will is guaranteed to beat – and by a large margin – whatever you throw at it
  • 5 stars: “Every song is a perfectly cut diamond … a groundbreaking piece of folk-rock-based psychedelia that hit — literally — like a shot heard round the world…”

Check out the breathy vocals on “Today” — now THAT is what we call the magic of vintage analog!

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Respighi / Pines of Rome / Reiner – Our Favorite for Performance and Sound

More music conducted by Fritz Reiner

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Double Plus (A++) sides, this Shaded Dog pressing of Reiners’s excellent 1960 recording had the glorious Living Stereo sound we were looking for
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • There were only three performances with audiophile quality sound in our shootout, and the Shaded Dog pressings not only had the best performances, but the sound that the team of Mohr/Layton managed to achieve was second to none
  • In other words, Harry was right to put this on his TAS Super Disc list – it really is a super disc
  • If you know anything about these works, you know that have tons of top and bottom end, and it is the rare pressing that can capture both
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the Living Stereo strings are near perfection – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Reiner and the CSO brought to these difficult and demanding works so many years ago
  • There are roughly 150 orchestral recordings that we think offer the discriminating audiophile the best combination of Superior Performances with Top Quality SoundThis record has earned a place on that list.

This shootout has been at least five years in the making, and the case could be made that something like fifteen is closer to the truth. Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand — close to a dozen different performances, I think — and found them all wanting, save three: this one (which is still on the TAS List), a Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On these works both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

We never did find something better. Our best Shaded Dog ended up winning the shootout. The best RCA pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton nailed it — in 1960!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and both the Pines and the Fountains get very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing. Still, with the best copies going head to head with each other, Reiner had more of all the qualities we were looking for.

How did the famous 1S/1S pressing fare? No idea. I haven’t seen one in twenty years. It may be better than the White Hot copy we are offering here. I certainly would not make the mistake of saying what it sounds without having played it. If someone has one and wants to send it to me to audition, I would love to give it a spin.

Some recordings we played lacked transparency, as well as the relaxed sense of involvement that eases one’s ability to be tricked into thinking “you (really) are there.”

The famous 1977 Maazel recording for Decca, which was on the TAS List for a long time, suffered from a bad case of multi-miking and the transparency issue mentioned above. What do you expect from 1977?

This is, of course, the knock on the Modern Heavy Vinyl Pressing — where is the transparency? The space? The three-dimensional depth? If your stereo can reproduce these qualities — a big if, since even as recently as twenty years ago mine could not — you should have given up on these opaque and airless frauds years ago.

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Albeniz / Turina – Iberia / Danzas Fantasticas

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this reissue pressing is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Iberia you’ve heard, especially if what you own is the Speakers Corner Decca (which is actually not a bad record)
  • Here you will find the huge hall, correct string tone, and spacious, open sound that are traits common to all the best vintage orchestral pressings
  • Listen to the plucked basses – clear, not smeary, with no sacrifice in richness. Take it from us, the guys that play classical recordings by the score, this is hard for a record to do!
  • Ernst Ansermet conducted some of the best sounding records ever made — here are some of the ones we’ve reviewed
  • We don’t have any problem recommending a Budget Reissue pressing such as this one, not when it has this kind of audiophile sound. In fact, some of them are so good that, even up against the best vintage pressings, they actually win the shootout

The sound of this copy is so transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic, that we knew we had a real winner on our hands as soon as the needle hit the groove.

We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

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Miles Davis / In Person – Friday and Saturday Nights

More Miles Davis

More of Our Best Jazz Trumpet Recordings

  • This 2-LP Six-Eye Stereo pressing boasts relaxed, full bodied, three-dimensional Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on sides two and three, and excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on sides one and two
  • These four sides are huge, spacious, lively, transparent and above all real – you won’t believe how good the live sound captured on this album is (until you play it anyway)
  • If you want to hear a healthy dose of the Tubey Magic, size and energy of these wonderful sessions, recorded at the Blackhawk in April 1961, this copy will let you do that
  • Marks and problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Though short-lived, the unique character of this group was its sheer intensity and diversity of attack. Because of the departure of Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, Davis had to rely as much on a muscular attack in playing his instrument as his considerable gift for melodic improvisation. For his part, Mobley had the shoes of two monster players to fill, and he does so elegantly with a ton of fire in his playing. But it is Kelly and Chambers who really set the pace for this band.”
  • If you’re a jazz fan, this classic title from 1961 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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The Rolling Stones – Beggars Banquet

More Rolling Stones

  • An outstanding vintage London pressing of this surprisingly well-recorded Stones album from 1968, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout and fairly quiet vinyl, all things considered
  • The long lost Tubey Magic of these early pressings has them sounding better than we ever thought possible with the audio equipment of the day
  • This is exactly the way you want Beggars Banquet to sound and it sure doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it
  • One of a select group of Rolling Stones Must Own titles we prize above all others – Sticky Fingers and Let It Bleed round out the trio
  • 5 stars: “Basic rock & roll was not forgotten, however: ‘Street Fighting Man’… was one of their most innovative singles, and ‘Sympathy for the Devil’… was an image-defining epic.”
  • If you’re a Stones fan, this vintage pressing of their 1968 classic belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1968 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • No Expectations, the second song on the first side, is one of the greatest Demo Tracks for Tubey Magical Guitar Reproduction we know of. The next year, Glyn Johns would pull off another acoustic guitar recording of that quality with Love in Vain on Let It Bleed.

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Seals & Crofts – Summer Breeze

More Seals and Crofts

More Folk Rock


  • An outstanding pressing of Summer Breeze with Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish, and exceptionally quiet vinyl too – some of the quietest we have ever found
  • With tons of Tubey Magical richness in the midrange (particularly on side two) – the kind that was still abundant on analog tape in 1972 – this is a wonderful sounding album of folk pop
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Summer Breeze offered an unusually ambitious array of music within a soft rock context – most artists tried to avoid weighty subjects in such surroundings… the most highly regarded of all of Seals & Crofts’ albums.” (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Sleeping Beauty / Ansermet

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage London pressing of Tchaikovsky’s complete Sleeping Beauty boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) Demo Disc sound on all SIX sides
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • Ansermet is of course a master of the ballet and the performance here by the Suisse Romande is outstanding, perhaps even definitive
  • If you’re a fan of Ansermet’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets, this superb All Tube Recording from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Big Decca sound! Powerful deep bass. Beautiful string tone and sharply articulated brass sound. This is a wonderful record.

Ansermet is surely the man for this music, and the famously huge hall he recorded in just as surely contributes much to the wonderful sound here.

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George Harrison – All Things Must Pass

More George Harrison

More of The Beatles

  • With superb sound on all six sides, this early British box set of All Things Must Pass will be very hard to beat
  • If you’ve struggled with domestic pressings and later imports or Heavy Vinyl reissues, your troubles are over – here is the sound you were looking for
  • 5 stars: “Without a doubt, Harrison’s first solo recording is his best. Drawing on his backlog of unused compositions from the late Beatles era, Harrison crafted material that managed the rare feat of conveying spiritual mysticism without sacrificing his gifts for melody and grand, sweeping arrangements.”
  • This is clearly George Harrison’s best sounding album. Roughly 100 other listings for the Best Sounding Album by an Artist or Group can be found here.
  • This is a Must Own Title from 1970, a great year for Rock and Pop Music
  • The complete list of titles from 1970 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here
  • A great deal of tube compression was used in the mixing and mastering of the album, which makes this a difficult one to reproduce on anything but the highest quality equipment

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Doc Watson – Home Again

More Doc Watson

More Folk Revival Music

Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Here is the in-the-room performance intimacy that will surely bring Doc’s music to life in a way you’ve never heard before
  • If you own the veiled, opaque, recessed, ambience-challenged Cisco remaster, you are in for a treat – our Hot Stamper is none of those things!
  • “[H]is most affecting folk-style record, with unexpectedly warm vocals matched to the quiet virtuosity of his playing. [The album] features Watson performing lively, achingly beautiful renditions of popular folk standards. All are played with very imposing dexterity by Watson, joined by his son Merle and Russ Savakus on upright bass.

This vintage Vanguard stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing any sign of coming back.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, tubey sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). (more…)

Simply Red / A New Flame – A Personal Favorite

More Simply Red

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • This excellent UK import copy of A New Flame boasts Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish
  • The key qualities for a record from this era are richness, smoothness, naturalness and Tubey Magic — with those, and clarity and presence, you have pretty much everything you need for a top quality pressing
  • Simply Red’s third (and in our opinion their BEST) album – this is where it all came together for the band, with “It’s Only Love” and “A New Flame” being the two best tracks the group ever recorded
  • Their cover of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” on side two sounds FANTASTIC

This outstanding UK import pressing has some of the best sound we have ever heard for the album, Simply Red’s third and in my opinion their BEST.

This is where it all came together for the band, especially in the writing department. These songs about love (few popular songs are about anything else when you stop to think about it) harken back to the days when there was such a thing as “Blue-Eyed Soul Music,” a cross between real soul music and the standard radio-friendly pop song. Hall and Oates, Smokey Robinson (not exactly blue-eyed but definitely the right sound); the music of these artists combines pop craftsmanship with real soul.

I love this album. Every track is good; the slow ones are the best but unlike their previous records the uptempo tracks are taken at a more modest and listenable pace. The two tracks that open side one are two of the best the band ever recorded.

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